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Question:

    Who invented frozen food?

Answer:    

    Several individuals, but most credit Clarence Birdseye.

Of course, frozen food has always existed in climates that were cold enough for the food to freeze. Many people developed innovative food-freezing techniques, including Enoch Piper, William Davis, and Daniel E. Somes. However, Clarence Birdseye is credited with inventing in 1924 the quick freezing method, which produces the type of frozen foods that we know today.

While working as a fur trader in Labrador, NF, Canada, Birdseye discovered that the fish that he and the local Inuit caught froze almost immediately after being pulled from the water. He was delighted to discover that the fish was just as delicious when thawed out months later. From this experience, he theorized that food must be frozen very quickly in order for it to retain its taste and texture.

Birdseye was right. Before quick-freezing came along, foods were frozen at a fairly slow rate. This caused large ice crystals to form, which ruptured the cell membranes of the food. When the food was defrosted, the ice crystals melted and water would leak out, taking with it the food’s flavor and texture.

Birdseye developed two methods for quick freezing foods, both of which employed the innovation of packaging the food beforehand.In the first technique, the package was held between two metal belts that were chilled to -40°F to -45°F using a calcium chloride solution.

In the second and more popular technique, the packaged food was held under pressure between two hollow metal plates that were chilled to -25°F by the evaporation of ammonia. Using this method, a two-inch-thick package of meat could be frozen to 0F in about 90 minutes, while fruits and vegetables took about 30 minutes.

Birdseye’s quick-freezing process actually ended up creating 168 patents! These covered not only the freezing technique but also the packaging, type of paper used, and related innovations.

Fun Fact: March is National Frozen Food Month!

Standard DisclaimerRelated Web Sites
  • Freezing and Food Safety - FactSheets from the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service.
  • Frozen Food that is Freezer Friendly - This is a brief article about the history of research of frozen foods by the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Includes the nine principles of freezing vegetables.
  • History of Frozen Food: Long and Varied - The National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA) maintains this site, which includes a basic history of the development of frozen foods over time.
  • How we got frozen food by Rudi Volti - Article about the history of frozen food from American Heritage magazine, v.9, Spring 1994.
  • Inventor of the Week: Clarence Birdseye - This site maintained by the Lemmelson-MIT program gives a profile of Clarence Birdseye and includes some basic information about his development of frozen foods. You can find the patent number for one of his innovations here!

Library of Congress Web SiteFurther Reading
  • Follette, Gordon. Frozen foods: the formative years. 100 years of refrigeration: a supplement to ASHRAE journal, ASHRAE journal, v.46, Nov. 2004: S35-39.
  • Frozen vegetables in How products are made: an illustrated guide to product manufacturing. Edited by Jacqueline L. Longe. v.5. Detroit, Gale Research, c2000. p. 210-215.
  • In the beginning. Frozen food age, v. 51, Dec. 2002: 26-38.
  • Peterson, Tiffany. Clarence Birdseye. Chicago, Heinemann Library, c2003. 32 pages. (Juvenile).
  • The war years – and boom: 1941-1945. Frozen food age, v. 46, Aug. 1997: 46-47.
  • Volti, Rudi. The development of frozen foods. ASHRAE journal, v. 37, Jun 1995: 69-71.
  • Volti, Rudi. How we got frozen food. American heritage of invention and technology, v. 9, Spring 1994: 46-56.

SearchFor more print resources...
Search on "cold storage," "cookery frozen foods," "frozen foods," or "home freezers" in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Preparation for point rationing. While mother keeps handy her war ration book two, daughter examines the frozen foods which require removal of point stamps. Prints &
Photographs Division, Library of Congress.


Bridgeton, New Jersey. Seabrook Farm. Packing Birds Eye frozen foods. Prints &
Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Photo:  examples of frozen foods
Examples of frozen foods. Image Number K7225-2 USDA Photography Center


Shopping for groceries at a Giant Supermarket in VA.  USDA Photography Center, Image No 00cn0805-33 CD4649-31


Bridgeton, New Jersey. Seabrook Farm.
Packing Birds Eye frozen foods. Prints &
Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

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  August 23, 2010
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